Without any doubt or hesitation we now can declare that maintaining a daily routine for dementia patients is vital. But when something happens and a hospital visit is required, their world will be turned upside down and, if you are the caregiver, so will yours.
Anxiety levels and confusion will be off the charts. Unfortunately this is when bad things begin to happen, sometimes setting off a chain of events that can be difficult to stop.
The moment you accompany them into the emergency room you are entering the most critical first moments of their stay, whether long or short. First and foremost don't let the staff separate you. They will try to keep you busy in the lobby filling out the paperwork while they whisk off the patient to triage.
Do not let this happen! Be confident and in control because the staff will begin asking them vital questions that will set the course for much of their treatment to come. The fact that these patients are cognitively impaired might not even be noticed by the triage nurse. You need to be there to field those questions; all answers must be verified by you!
I understand that the hospitals are taking these patients at face value. They see them as adults - which, of course, they are. However caregivers need to stand in the gap and be certain it is understood that yes, they are adults, but with cognitive issues. Not everyone knows that a major symptom of dementia is poor decision-making. Once the staff "gets it," it will make a world of difference when it comes to the approach that is used, especially under these higher levels of confusion.
It's one thing to ask them where they were born and have them answer with the wrong city, and even a state where they never have been. But when they are being asked if they're allergic to any medications or when is the last time they had any surgeries, the incorrect answers can lead to serious complications.
Get ready. This can be an exercise in frustration. Sometimes it won't matter how many times you stomp your foot on the floor and tell the hospital's medical staff that the patient has dementia.
One of the first things I teach when training hospital staff members about dementia care is that all information must be verified. We are lacking dementia training in our hospitals here in the United States, and in many other countries. I've been working hard for years to change this. I am happy to say that I am beginning to see progress.
With the incidence of dementia patients entering our hospitals surging, these facilities need to be educated on how properly to address their behaviors and on better ways to communicate with them. This continues to be one of my biggest goals, but until we get there you, the caregiver, must be the voice and advocate for your loved ones during these admissions. If you have power of attorney, have the official papers with you, and keep them with you during the entire stay.
Make sure you tell everyone the patient has dementia and everything needs to go through you. And I mean everyone!
We, their caregivers, are the only ones who can make sure their hospital stay is safe and calm. We are an essential cog in the wheel of tranquility for our loved ones, the hospital staff and ourselves.
For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newly released book "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," and his other books "While I Still Can" and the expanded edition of "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness," can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.